Liz McSpadden was a math and science nerd who had her heart set on becoming a chemical engineer. Then she took an accounting class as a junior at Naperville North High School.
“I heard accounting was a lot of math and I needed a tech credit,” she said. “The first day of Accounting, my teacher, Mr. Wachtel, began talking about debits and credits and it made perfect sense. After the first week, I told my parents that I really liked this and it spoke to me. However, the whole school year I was really nervous about deviating from the path I thought I was on. I remember thinking, ‘This is the biggest decision of your life, you can’t go into your college years with one foot in the door on one thing, and your heart somewhere else.’
“In late spring of my junior year, the local accounting classes from several high schools came together at College of DuPage for a high school accounting competition. After taking home second place as a team, I realized this wasn’t just something I was good at. This awakened my spirit, and I was changed.”
She also was intrigued by COD. When McSpadden changed majors, she wasn’t sure what school to attend. She visited Northern Illinois University with a friend but ultimately was concerned about cost and distance, especially when her father fell ill. She visited COD and decided it was the right choice for her.
McSpadden joined Forensics, the Student Leadership Council, Phi Theta Kappa and the Accounting Club. She also enrolled in the Honors Program, which changed her life.
“It was a family. There were so many of us together in these classes that really challenged us by making us think in abstract ways and debate topics,” she said. “The faculty teaching Honors classes are very dedicated, and one of my favorites was Dr. Ken Gray. He wrote his own textbook, and the discussions we had in class were on some of the most interesting topics. The other Honors class that really sticks out was Lauren Morgan and Speech 1100. I never really liked public speaking but Lauren Morgan helped me love it and got me to join Forensics the following semester. Public speaking is a lifelong skill, something you are going to have to do at times in your life, and it was invaluable to have such great faculty teaching it.”
She also met her husband at COD.
“I was carrying a large amount of stuff in my hands and dropped it all on the floor, and he was the one kind person who stopped to help me pick up everything. He walked me to the SLC office and we started talking. We ended up realizing we actually met previously during my first semester of COD, in Macro Economics on a group project, and didn’t like each other back then. Thank goodness time allowed us to reunite and actually enjoy each other’s company several months later.”
After graduating with an Associate in Arts degree, McSpadden transferred to NIU, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Accountancy. She worked in investment accounting and mutual funds for several years at Invesco & Northern Trust and then in endowments and gifts at Northwestern University. After starting her MBA at NIU, she switched careers to corporate accounting at the Bradford Group and then landed at FTD. Upon completing her MBA, she moved to ALDI, where she currently works for National Projects.
“It’s basically internal consulting for ALDI on various financial projects and understanding cost-benefit analysis behind the project and all of the KPIs for measurability,” she said. “It’s the best decision I ever made for myself and my career. It combines my accounting background and utilizes my MBA and all of my previous work and school experience.”
McSpadden is proud to be a Stage 4 breast cancer warrior, with bone mets to her sternum and spine. Diagnosed at 30, she beat breast cancer the first time with chemotherapy, double mastectomy and radiation. Six months after beating it, it returned to her bones. She is stable currently but will be battling this disease the rest of her life.
McSpadden is glad to have started at College of DuPage. Looking back on her time at COD, she truly understands the impact it had on her life.
“I had the opportunity to explore accounting and business while also taking my general education classes that would transfer over to NIU,” she said. “With living close to home for two years and working two part-time jobs on the side as well as the help of Honors classes being paid for at the time, I didn’t need to take out any loans during college.
“When I first attended COD, I was sort of a lost puppy looking for the next big adventure, not knowing many people. I met so many people on campus and through student life, and some of my best friends to this date are from COD. Classes and student life really helped build those experiences, but also it taught me a lot about myself. I was able to grow into a leader, a young woman, and a confident person about the choices I was making for my future and understanding how I could be successful.”
Her advice for prospective students is to not be afraid to try something new and to grow.
“Life changes constantly, and if we allow ourselves to try something unfamiliar – a new class, a new student group or a new job – it gives us that courage and strength to say, ‘Wow I did it. I survived that, and it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.’ I was so scared to do the unimaginable – change my focus and start over from scratch. Every one of my friends thought I was crazy to do so in high school, but I knew deep down I couldn’t let fear stop me.
“Knowing what makes you tick and what you love will allow you to make decisions and think for yourself when experiencing life changes and hardships. I started out at COD unsure of my major, unsure of my school of choice, and not knowing a single person. By the time I graduated, I had become a confident young woman and had met so many wonderful people along the journey who helped me build a great network of support.”